working on a car - on a gravel driveway
September 24, 2007 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I want to do minor maintenance on my cars (oil changes, brake checks, and so on), but I don't have a garage to do it in or a concrete driveway. All I have is a gravel / dirt driveway to work on. I would like to jack up my cars (and put them on jack stands), but I'm not comfortable at all doing it on this kind of surface. How can I do this without putting myself in harms way?

I've thought about using pieces of plywood to put the jack stands on and chocking the rear tires - would this work or is there a better way?
posted by bigmusic to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Wheel ramps?
posted by Luddite at 7:06 PM on September 24, 2007

I recently became a DIY-oilchanger, and I use ramps. They work very well. I bought them for about forty bucks, I think.
posted by jayder at 7:20 PM on September 24, 2007

Here are the ones I use. Of course, it's necessary that you have an even surface ... as long as your driveway is pretty flat, that would probably work.
posted by jayder at 7:25 PM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: Well ramps would be great for oil changs, but not so good for brake work.
posted by bigmusic at 7:28 PM on September 24, 2007

I've been in the same situation many times. I use a full sheet of 3/4" A/B or A/C plywood sideways to the car (IE: the 8' direction running side to side) to set the jack stands on. This does five things:
  • stabilizes the stands
  • gives you something to roll the floor jack on
  • gives you a chance of finding that dropped bolt/socket (otherwise they just disappear into the gravel)
  • prevents your clothes/tools from getting covered in dirt
  • prevents oil and other fluid drips from contaminating the driveway.
Preferably you want the sheet to be free of voids so pay a bit more for quality.

If your stands just have angle at the bottom you can get a angle iron frame welded up to help distribute the load. Better though is to get a set of stands with some kind of feet or base.
posted by Mitheral at 7:29 PM on September 24, 2007

Get some short lengths of timber, about 1' long - 2" by about 6" is ideal, but you can use all sorts. Lay them under the jack stands so they spread the load to stop the stands sinking into the ground.

You may want to avoid using them after heavy rain, as the ground may be soft.

Get a tarp large enough to cover the area underneath and around the car and drive the car onto it before jacking it up, so you have a clean surface to lie on/find dropped nuts etc. If you are only doing basic maintenance, you should rarely (if ever) need to get all the way under the car and, as long as you have good jack stands, you are safe enough.
posted by dg at 8:08 PM on September 24, 2007

I've used pieces of 1" thick plywood cut to 18"x18" under each jackstand before, and it was ok. I'm much happier being under a car that is up on ramps, but as you noted that won't work for everything. I'd suggest using ramps for the oil changes and the like, and reserving the jackstands for when you really need them. I've just read too many accounts of jackstands failing or tipping and people being injured to be totally comfortable with them. I use them, but I don't like it, and do so as seldom as possible.

If you own the place, or have a really cool landlord, consider pouring a concrete pad for working on. The advantage is not only that your jackstands won't sink -- you can also roll around on a creeper, and when you drop bolts and washers they won't disappear into the gravel. Concrete is fairly cheap, and pouring a reasonably flat surface isn't exactly rocket science.
posted by Forktine at 8:18 PM on September 24, 2007

I've been known to do repairs under the car by moving the car so it straddles a drainage ditch in the yard. Not effective if you need to take the wheels off, but field-expedient if you just need to get underneath it.
I recommend laying down an old white sheet in case you drop something, too.
posted by leapfrog at 4:20 AM on September 25, 2007

I've just read too many accounts of jackstands failing or tipping and people being injured to be totally comfortable with them

Once you've got the car on the stands, give it a few very hard shoves from different angles (with people well clear of the car). Hopefully, if it's going to fall, it will fall when you do this. Not claiming this is a guarantee.

Wheel ramps don't work very well if you like to level the car while draining the oil.

There are good solutions above, but if you can find someone who will let you use their concrete pad for a couple hours that might work better for you. Offering beer usually helps with this, or if you have time but not money you could work on their car.
posted by yohko at 8:51 PM on September 25, 2007

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